Half a Cup

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Poetry  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 23, 2018

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Submitted: August 23, 2018

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I grew up in a small
Midwestern town
claimed to be the first
Norwegian settlement
West of the Mississippi

when I was a kid
the old men would still speak
the old language
over coffee
always
over coffee
in the diner that opened earliest
mostly for farmers
but always before dawn

I had a morning paper route
the Winona Daily News
42 papers
42 houses
42 times on and off the bicycle
up stairs, down stairs
between the screen door and the storm door
behind the concrete cat porch ornament
each house had a specific spot

there was none of the
"throwing from the sidewalk while driving by" stuff
you saw in the movies

this was a small town
Midwest small
and you walked that fucking paper
up to each house
specifically

sometime
in the middle of the night
a box truck would stop by my house
and toss a bundle of papers
on the front step

every once in a while
there would be an extra paper
or two
in my bundle
and I saved them in my Paper Bag
which was this oversized canvas satchel
used to hold the entire bundle

the satchel was necessary
due to the weather
more times than not
being wet
or snowing

it was no small thing
for an eight year old to get himself up
regardless of weather
before 5 am
and hump these newspapers
around town
awkwardly balanced
on a Schwinn Stingray
every
single
day

so on days
when there was an extra paper or two
in my bundle
I saved them until the end of my route
and walked them into the early diner
straight up to the old Norwegian farmers
speaking in their own language

the place always smelled like
a dairy barn in the early mornings
chlorine, iodine, and Holstein shit
these guys could never completely wash off
it was in their skin

this was a way for me
to make a couple of extra quarters
which was what the Daily's cost
and on Sundays I could sometimes
get a whole dollar

the thing is now
looking back
it felt good knowing those diner lights were on
sometimes it was the only other lights
other than streetlights that were on
at that hour
knowing those old farmers
were already up
was comforting too

so sometimes
Id take the time to sit down
and listen to their language
just sit and listen
they may as well have been our towns Mafia
the Uff-da Nostra

many small farming towns
are subtly run
by these early morning meetings
I learned that young
by listening

one morning
when I had an extra issue
I went to the diner
and layed the paper out on their table
I smoothed out any wrinkles in front of them
like I was folding a beach towel

then a quarter slid across the table
under a hand
that was hundreds of harvests old
and I was told to sit down
so I did

a moment later
a cup and saucer were placed in front of me
and a different hand
ancient and weathered
poured me exactly half a cup of coffee

Ill remember those hands
and that exact half cup
until I die

It was bitter
and so hot
the cup was too hard to hold for very long
but I took a sip anyway
and didn't flinch a bit

so I sat like that
listening to them speak Norwegian
and feeling I was part of it
for the moment if nothing else
when a woman
older than my mother
walked in and took a booth

she had taken care of herself
and looked good for the time of day
in that little town
in that little world
the air smelled like perfume as she walked passed
and the soles of her shoes made a clicking sound

my table had fallen to a hush instantly
you could hear the sound of steam rise from the coffee
and these monolithic men I had come to respect
with huge slabs as arms resting in front of them on the round table
went quiet in a sort of reverence

they wouldn't dare turn their heads
but I caught every last one of them
at least trying to grab a glance
as she walked past

I learned two things that morning
the first
is that women are a powerful mystery
and I liked that straightaway
the second
is that I knew right then and there
I would feel this way forever
if I was lucky enough
and took my coffee
a half cup
at a time


© Copyright 2018 peter engen. All rights reserved.

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